Why does Macbeth order the murderers to kill Banquo instead of doing it himself?

Quick answer:

Macbeth orders the murder of Banquo instead of killing him personally for several reasons. As king, he has the ability to delegate such tasks, allowing him to establish an alibi and maintain a public image of a benevolent ruler. Macbeth is also fearful of Banquo due to the prophecy of Banquo's descendants becoming kings, and he believes that Banquo suspects him of Duncan's murder. Additionally, Macbeth and Banquo share mutual friends, and Macbeth is concerned about maintaining his relationships and public favor.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Macbeth does not attempt to kill Banquo himself because he no longer has to do his own dirty work. He has become king and can delegate such deeds to others. Being king makes Macbeth conspicuous. It would be harder for him to murder Banquo than it was to murder Duncan; but it is much easier to establish an alibi for killing Banquo or anybody else, because he can have the killing done for him while he makes an appearance in front of numerous other people. As king he could probably have ordered Banquo executed (and he might have even framed him for the murder of Duncan to justify the execution), but he probably didn't feel sufficiently secure in his new position as absolute ruler. No doubt he would like to be thought of as a benevolent monarch, but he quickly learns that this is impossible because too many people, including Banquo and Macduff, feel sure he gained the throne by the worst kind of treachery.

As far as Macbeth's motivation for killing Banquo is concerned, this seems to be thoroughly covered in his soliloquy in Act 3, Scene 1, quoted below in full.

To be thus is nothing,
But to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo
Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature
Reigns that which would be fear'd. ’Tis much he dares,
And, to that dauntless temper of his mind,
He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valor
To act in safety. There is none but he
Whose being I do fear; and under him
My genius is rebuked, as it is said
Mark Antony's was by Caesar. He chid the sisters,
When first they put the name of King upon me,
And bade them speak to him; then prophet-like
They hail'd him father to a line of kings:
Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown(65)
And put a barren sceptre in my gripe,
Thence to be wrench'd with an unlineal hand,
No son of mine succeeding. If't be so,
For Banquo's issue have I filed my mind,
For them the gracious Duncan have I murdered,
Put rancors in the vessel of my peace
Only for them, and mine eternal jewel
Given to the common enemy of man,
To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings!
Rather than so, come, Fate, into the list,(75)
And champion me to the utterance! 

Macbeth is afraid of Banquo. He realizes that Banquo should have a strong motivation to assassinate him in order to make it possible for his own descendants to become the kings of Scotland, as promised by the three witches. Macbeth also feels sure that Banquo sees right through him and knows intuitively and deductively that Macbeth killed Duncan in order to become king. Macbeth thinks he can cheat fate by killing Banquo and thereby preventing him from producing heirs to the Scottish throne. No doubt Macbeth is already planning to have Fleance murdered along with his father.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Macbeth explains to the muderers why he can't kill Banquo himself:
...and yet I must not,
For certain friends that are both his and mine,
Whose loves I may not drop, but wail his fall
Who I myself struck down. And thence it is
That I to your assistance do make love,
Masking the business from the common eye
For sundry weighty reasons.

If I've read this correctly, he has many reasons for wanting to hide his part in this, not the least of which is that he and Banquo have mutual friends. He can not be seen murdering him; instead, he must, with Banquo's friends, weep for the loss of him. In public, at least.

He is concerned with how things appear. He can't be seen with blood on his hands. Were he to kill Banquo directly, he would lose favour with some powerful people (whose loves he may not drop). I think he is aware of how tenuous his position is, and of how much he needs the few people who remain on his side.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

If he wasn't the third murderer, his decision to hire people instead of doing it himself may have something to do with his already growing guilt. No matter how ambitious you are, killing one of your good buddies would be extremely difficult. In addition, by hiring people, he cuts down on his level of involvement in these murders also - less of a chance that he gets caught and blamed for these, too.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Macbeth needs Banquo killed because Banquo is raising suspicions that Macbeth killed Duncan (which he did). Macbeth has to get rid of him before he tells that to many people. More than that, however, Macbeth is worried that the prophecy of Banquo’s sons being kings will come true. His reign will be barren if his sons do not succeed him. Macbeth hires two men to murder Banquo and Fleance. Macbeth hires the murders to kill Banquo so he can be assured of success. (Although many argue that the third murder in the scene is, in fact, Macbeth)

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why doesn't Macbeth kill Banquo himself?

Macbeth is now king, the most powerful person in the land, so it is not hard for him to find henchmen willing to kill an underling for him. He knew he had to kill the anointed king, Duncan, himself, but Banquo is a different story. He knows that even if his hired assassins try to betray him, it will be his word against theirs, and his will be believed: he is the king.

Macbeth also has good reason not to wish to be associated with the murder or near the crime, as he is already under suspicion for having murdered Duncan. He doesn't want to take the risk of being accused of his friend's murder.

Finally, although Macbeth's heart is hardening, it is not hardened all the way through yet, as we understand when his guilt is so great after ordering Banquo's murder that he believes he sees Banquo's ghost. Banquo has been his long time friend and comrade in arms. To murder him himself is more, at this point, than Macbeth can do. He has already had the horrible and shattering experience of killing Duncan: we can only imagine he doesn't want to undergo anything like that again if he can avoid it.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why doesn't Macbeth kill Banquo himself?

Macbeth doesn't kill Banquo because he's smart enough to realize that if Duncan, Macbeth's relative, turns up dead in Macbeth's house—greatly benefiting Macbeth himself—and then Banquo, Macbeth's friend, turns up dead anywhere Macbeth routinely visits, it is going to look pretty fishy. People will likely begin to realize that these deaths of those closest to Macbeth are not coincidental. If Macbeth has Banquo killed far from Macbeth's own home, somewhere on the road, then it could be more easily made to look like Macbeth has nothing to do with it. He tells the murderers he hires that the murder

[...] must be done tonight
And something from the palace; always thought
That I require a clearness. (3.2.150-152)

In other words, Macbeth wants to take precautions so that he is kept clear of any blame, so that he is not suspected of being involved. Hiring murderers to take care of it while Banquo is away from Macbeth's home is probably the best way to do this (although, it doesn't work and people begin to put it together that Macbeth is responsible for both murders anyway).

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why doesn't Macbeth kill Banquo himself?

Shakespeare was trying to maintain some degree of audience sympathy for Macbeth because this was his tragic hero. He had to put some distance between Macbeth and the murders for the audience to maintain any sympathy for him. We feel little enough sympathy for Macbeth in the end as it is. The only good thing to be said about him is that he is extremely courageous. He even challenges Fate itself and goes down fighting Fate, which he ultimately finds to be invincible.

Furthermore, Macbeth has had enough of cold-blooded murder when he kills Duncan in his sleep, as we can see in the aftermath. In Act II, Scene 2, when his wife tells him he must go back to Duncan's chamber and smear the faces of the drugged grooms with blood from the two daggers, he replies, "I'll go no more: I am afraid to think what I have done; Look on't again I dare not."

So his wife has to take the daggers and go back to do the grisly job for him. She is one of the first to do his dirty work. When Macbeth thinks of killing Banquo, it is natural for him to find someone else to do it. He doesn't mind killing men in battle, but he doesn't like committing villainous murders. We can say that for him, too that he is not much good as a murderer. He delegates Banquo's and Fleance's murders to two men who are joined by a third murderer just before the assault takes place. Later when he has a number of soldiers slaughter Macduff's family and everyone else in Macduff's castle, Macbeth is getting someone else to do his dirty work. This is partly because he is squeamish about the criminal kind of killing, and also because Shakespeare didn't want to make Macbeth look any worse than he already does. We are supposed to feel some pity for Macbeth at the end, when he is all alone and everybody hates him, and he is totally depressed.

Additionally, Macbeth becomes king almost immediately after Duncan's assassination. As king, Macbeth has more power. He can kill anybody he wants to, but he has to be concerned about public opinion. When he has Banquo killed at some distance from his castle, he makes sure he has a good alibi. He is hosting a big banquet. How could he have killed Banquo and tried to kill Fleance?

Macbeth might have another reason for not planning to kill Banquo himself. Banquo is a warrior. He would not be as easy to kill as an old man sound asleep in his bed. Macbeth might feel that he would need help. After all, there are two people involved: Banquo and his son Fleance. Fleance might get away while he was fighting with the boy's father, which is pretty much what happens. Banquo and his son may stay at Dunsinane for another night, but we can be sure Banquo would be wide awake and have his door securely bolted and barricaded. We see in Act II, Scene 1 that Banquo keeps his sword with him while he is in Macbeth's castle. Early in the scene, he tells Fleance:

Hold, take my sword.

He does this because Shakespeare wanted to show his audience that he has a sword. When Macbeth enters, Banquo says,

Give me my sword!

Banquo knows he is in danger because he knows Macbeth cannot like the idea of Banquo's descendants forming a long line of Scottish monarchs. Banquo is also sure Macbeth killed Duncan, even though Macbeth managed to pin the blame on Malcolm and Donalbain. Banquo knows Macbeth is a very dangerous man, and he doesn't like being a guest in his castle.

Shakespeare may not have wanted to write yet another murder scene in which Macbeth goes creeping down the corridors in the dark. It would be too repetitive. The playwright had wrung about as much emotion out of the first murder as he could expect to get. He needed some variety. A writer has to keep changing things in order to hold the interest of the audience.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

According to Macbeth, why does he himself not kill Banquo? What does Macbeth tell the murderers about Banquo? Where has Macduff gone?

According to Act III of the play, Macbeth hires murderes to kill Banquo instead of killing him himself because he realizes that Banquo is a well - liked an honored man and that killing him himself may raise further suspicion.  Thus, he convinces the murderers (low-life scoundrels) that Banquo is the chief reason for their pain and unfortunate circumstances.  Also, he is hosting a banquet, so he will have an alibi for the time of the murders.  He has questioned Banquo and knows he will be riding that day.  Thus, nobody will suspect Macbeth becuase many people will see him at the banquet.  In addition to Banquo, Macduff is absent from the banquet as well.  He has made his suspicion of Macbeth obvious by his actions, and he must flee to England and try to convince Malcolm to return to Scotland and regain the throne.

Posted on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

According to Macbeth, why does he himself not kill Banquo? What does Macbeth tell the murderers about Banquo? Where has Macduff gone?

This scene occurs at the beginning of Act III.  (If you need the text of the play, eNotes has it available in a highly accessible form, with helpful annotation.)

Macbeth cleverly convinces the murderers that Banquo is their enemy and that their misfortunes are his fault.  (Are you so gospell'd/
To pray for this good man and for his issue,/ Whose heavy hand hath bow'd you to the grave/And beggar'd yours for ever? Act III, Scene 1).

Macbeth insists that Banquo is his enemy, as well.  As he explains to the murderers, however, he cannot kill Banquo himself, for they share friends whom Macbeth must not offend or otherwise wrong by committing the murder. (For certain friends that are both his and mine,/Whose loves I may not drop, but wail his fall/Who I myself struck down; and thence it is,/That I to your assistance do make love,/Masking the business from the common eye/For sundry weighty reasons. Act III, Scene 1)

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What reason does Macbeth give for not going and killing Banquo himself?

In Act III Scene 1 of Macbeth by Shakespeare, Macbeth is told by Banquo that he has all the titles now as the witches have predicted, but he also says,

...and I fear

Thou play'dst most foully for 't. 

Yet it was said'It should not stand in thy posterity,

But that myself should be the root and father

Of many kings.... (3.1.2-5)

When Banquo says that he expects to have the propheses of the "weird women" come true for him, Macbeth in fear determines that

To be thus [King]is nothing, but [unless] safely thus

Our fears in Banquo stick deep. (3.1.47-48)

So, in order to ensure that he will remain king, Macbeth orders the murders of Banquo and his son Fleance.  He tells the murderers that he could perform the act except for the fact that he and Banquo have mutual friends, friends who Macbeth must court for they would protest the death of Banquo.  So, he must hide this act from them:

...and though I could

With barefaced power sweep him from my face 

And bid my will avouch it, yet I must not

For certain friends are both his and mine,

Whose loves I may not drop, but wail his fall

Who I myself struck down. And thence it is

That I to your assistance do make love,

Masking the business from the common eye

As he talks with the hired murderers, he tells them where to put themselves and expresses the urgency of their killing Banquo and his son.  Also, Macbeth instructs them to be sure to perform their deeds away from the palace, remembering that he

...require(s) a clearness; and with him--

To leave no rubs nor botches in the work--(3.1.133-134)

Macbeth wants no suspicion of his being involved in the murder of Banquo and Fleance because he wishes to remain as King.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why didn't Macbeth kill Banquo himself? Why give the job to those two murderers?

These are interesting questions. There are several possible answers. In the first and most important place, Shakespeare was trying to maintain some degree of audience sympathy for Macbeth because this was his tragic hero. He couldn't show Macbeth going around murdering people and still maintain any sympathy for him. We feel little enough sympathy for Macbeth in the end as it is. The only good thing to be said about him is that he is extremely courageous. He even challenges Fate itself and goes down fighting Fate, which he finds is invincible.

Furthermore, Macbeth is not really a murderer. He has had enough of cold-blooded murder when he kills Duncan in his sleep, as we can see in the aftermath. When his wife tells him he must go back to Duncan's chamber and smear the faces of the drugged grooms with blood from the two daggers, he replies:

I'll go no more:
I am afraid to think what I have done;
Look on't again I dare not.          (2.2)

So his wife has to take the daggers and go back to do the grisly job for him. She is one of the first to do his dirty work. When Macbeth thinks of killing Banquo it is natural for him to find someone else to do it. He doesn't mind killing men in battle, but he doesn't like committing villainous murders. We can say that for him too: he is not much good as a murderer. He delegates Banquo's and Fleance's murders to two men who are joined by a third murderer just before the assault takes place. And later when he has a number of soldiers slaughter Macduff's family and everyone else in Macduff's castle, he is getting someone else to do his dirty work. This is partly because he is squeamish about the criminal kind of killing and also because Shakespeare didn't want to make him look any worse than he already was. We are supposed to feel some pity for Macbeth at the end, when he is all alone and everybody hates him, and he is totally depressed.

In addition to these reasons, there is the fact that Macbeth becomes king almost immediately after Duncan's assassination. As king, Macbeth has more power. He can kill anybody he wants to--but he has to be concerned about public opinion. When he has Banquo killed at some distance from his castle, he makes sure that he has a good alibi. He is hosting a big banquet. How could he have killed Banquo and tried to kill Fleance? But when he has Macduff's wife and children murdered, he no longer seems to care about what people think. In fact, he does this openly in order to set an example. He wants to show what can happen to any of his followers who, like Macduff, desert him. 

Macbeth might have another reason for not planning to kill Banquo himself. Banquo is a warrior. He would not be as easy to kill as an old man sound asleep in his bed. Macbeth might feel that he would need help. After all, there are two people involved, Banquo and his son Fleance. Fleance might get away while he was fighting with the boy's father--which is pretty much what happens. Banquo and his son may stay at Dunsinane for another night, but we can be sure that Banquo would be wide awake and have his door securely bolted and barricaded. We see in Act 2, Scene 1 that Banquo keeps his sword with him while he is in Macbeth's castle. Early in the scene he tells Fleance:

Hold, take my sword.

He does this because Shakespeare wanted to show his audience that he has a sword. Then when Macbeth enters, Banquo says:

Give me my sword!

Banquo knows he is in danger because he knows--just as we know--that Macbeth cannot like the idea of Banquo's descendants forming a long line of Scottish monarchs. Banquo is also sure that it was Macbeth who killed Duncan, even though he managed to pin the blame on Malcolm and Donalbain. Banquo knows Macbeth is a very dangerous man, and he doesn't like being a guest in his castle.

Shakespeare may not have wanted to write yet another murder scene in which Macbeth goes creeping down the corridors in the dark. It would be too repetitious. The playwright had wrung about as much emotion out of the first murder as he could expect to get. He needed some variety. A writer has to keep changing things in order to hold the interest of his reader or his audience. This is one of the secrets of good creative writing.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why doesn't Macbeth tell Lady Macbeth that he plans to kill Banquo?

Dialogue in Shakespeare's plays, as in most plays, is used largely to convey information to the audience. The author can become tedious if he has a character explain something to another character which the audience already knows. If Macbeth told his wife about his plans to have Banquo and Fleance killed, he would be telling her everything that Shakespeare has taken great pains to convey to his audience in Macbeth's soliloquies and through his dialogue with the murderers. The audience does not know exactly how these murders are supposed to be executed, but that will be clearly shown in Act III.3 when it happens. If Macbeth told his wife all about it in advance, there would be a lot of unnecessary dialogue between them, and it would detract from the emotional effect of Act III.3, where the audience sees Banquo ambushed and killed while Fleance manages to escape. So Shakespeare has Macbeth tell his wife in Act III.2, when she asks,

What's to be done?

Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,
Till thou applaud the deed.

Macbeth is supposedly protecting his wife from being an accessory before the fact. But the real reason that he doesn't tell her "what's to be done" is that there is no need to communicate anything in dialogue to the audience. They already know he plans to have Banquo and Fleance killed, and they will soon find out how the murderers intend to do it.

Another interesting and apposite example of how Shakespeare avoids unnecessary dialogue can be seen in Julius Caesar. In Act II.1, Brutus finally yields to Portia's insistent pleading and says he will tell her everything she wants to know.

Hark, hark, one knocks.Portia, go in awhile,
And by and by thy bosom shall partake
The secrets of my heart.
All my engagements I will construe to thee,
All the charactery of my sad brows.
Leave me with haste.

Yet in Act III.4, it is evident that Portia now knows that Brutus is planning to lead an assassination attempt against Julius Caesar that day, and there has been no word of dialogue in the interim in which Brutus has explained this to his wife. The audience understands that Brutus has done as he promised and that Portia is now fully informed and has become, in effect, a co-conspirator.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why do you think Macbeth does not kill Banquo and Fleance himself?

This is an excellent question. If we look at it from the perspective of Macbeth himself, it can be answered that the main reason he has for not killing Banquo and Fleance himself is that he is concerned about his public image. He hopes against hope that he and his wife have gotten away with their murder of King Macduff and their usurpation of the Scottish crown: but he would like to keep a low profile and try to build a good reputation with the people. It turns out that his hired murderers bungle the job of killing Fleance. Macbeth is widely suspected of being behind that father-son murder attempt, and this leads to his being suspected of the murder of King Duncan as well.

From the perspective of Macbeth's creator, it appears that William Shakespeare wanted to preserve some degree of audience sympathy for his tragic hero. We, of course, know that Macbeth was behaving villainously. But he loses less of our respect by distancing himself from the deed as much as possible.

The same would apply to Shakespeare's reason for having Macduff and his family killed by emissaries. When Shakespeare has Macbeth meet his downfall in the fifth act, it seems obvious that the playwright wanted his audience to preserve at least some small amount of sympathy for his tragic hero. So Macbeth's crimes are either perpetrated by agents or else are only described by others, such as Lennox and Ross.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on